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‘Godfather’ Star, Rare Hollywood Conservative James Caan Dies at 82

'It’s hard to believe that he won’t be in the world anymore because he was so alive and daring...'

(Headline USA) James Caan, the curly-haired tough guy known to movie fans as the hotheaded Sonny Corleone of The Godfather and to television audiences as both the dying football player in the classic weeper Brian’s Song and the casino boss in Las Vegas, has died. He was 82.

Caan was a rarity in Hollywood as an outspoken and proud conservative who defied the pernicious left-wing politics of the entertainment industry.

“I’m an ultra conservative,” he said in 2016, according to Fox News profile, noting that he only watched the right-leaning news channel. “I’m not a God d**n Hollywood liberal, I’m not.”

His manager Matt DelPiano said he died Wednesday, although reports of his death were eclipsed by the assassination early Friday of Japanese ex-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, also a faithful conservative and close ally of former President Donald Trump.

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No cause was given in Caan’s death, and his family, who requests privacy, said that no further details would be released at this time.

Al Pacino wrote in an emailed statement that, “Jimmy was my fictional brother and my lifelong friend. It’s hard to believe that he won’t be in the world anymore because he was so alive and daring. A great actor, a brilliant director and my dear friend. I loved him, gonna miss him.”

Robert De Niro also wrote that he was, “very very sad to hear about Jimmy’s passing.”

Born March 26, 1939, in New York City, Caan was the son of a kosher meat wholesaler. A football player at Michigan State University and a practical joker on production sets, Caan was a grinning, handsome performer with an athlete’s swagger and muscular build. He managed a long career despite drug problems, outbursts of temper and minor brushes with the law.

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Caan had been a favorite of Francis Ford Coppola since the 1960s, when Coppola cast him for the lead in Rain People. He was primed for a featured role in The Godfather as Sonny, the No. 1 enforcer and eldest son of Mafia boss Vito Corleone.

Caan bonded with Brando, Robert Duvall and other cast members and made it a point to get everyone laughing during an otherwise tense production, sometimes dropping his pants and “mooning” a fellow actor or crew member. Despite Coppola’s fears he had made a flop, the 1972 release was an enormous critical and commercial success and brought supporting actor Oscar nominations for Caan, Duvall and Pacino.

Caan was already a star on television, breaking through in the 1971 TV movie Brian’s Song, an emotional drama about Chicago Bears running back Brian Piccolo, who had died of cancer the year before at age 26. It was among the most popular and wrenching TV movies in history, and Caan and co-star Billy Dee Williams, who played Piccolo’s teammate and best friend Gale Sayers, were nominated for best actor Emmys.

But by the early 1980s Caan had begun to struggle with drug use and was devastated by the 1981 leukemia death of his sister, Barbara, who until then had been a guiding force in his career. For much of the 1980s he made no films, telling people he preferred to coach his son Scott’s Little League games. Scott Caan also grew up to be an actor.

“The fun of it was taken away,” he told an interviewer in 1981. “I’ve done pictures where I’d rather do time. I just walked out of a picture at Paramount. I said you haven’t got enough money to make me go to work every day with a director I don’t like.”

He returned to full-fledged stardom opposite Kathy Bates in Misery in 1990. In the film, based on Stephen King’s novel, Caan is an author taken captive by an obsessed fan who breaks his ankles to keep him from leaving. Bates won an Oscar for the role.

He introduced himself to a new generation playing Walter, the workaholic, stone-faced father of Buddy’s Will Ferrell in Elf.

Adam Sandler, who acted with him in Bulletproof and That’s My Boy, tweeted that he, “Loved him very much. Always wanted to be like him. So happy I got to know him. Never ever stopped laughing when I was around that man. His movies were best of the best.”

Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press

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